Sunday 16 December 2018

Choreographed more for propaganda than planning

Stage plan: Ministers gather in Sligo to launch the 2040 blueprint
Stage plan: Ministers gather in Sligo to launch the 2040 blueprint

Shona Murray

'Well. This is a great day for the country," Minister for Business Heather Humphreys welcomed waiting journalists in a cold and sunny Sligo.

"It's a great day for Ireland," her fellow ministers trumpeted - a message they hoped would be heard in parishes near and far, urban and rural.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross was so delighted he formally declared the "end of the lost decade" following years of recession.

We are now entering an era of "revolution" in transport, he added.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney poses with James Wall. Photo: James Connolly
Tánaiste Simon Coveney poses with James Wall. Photo: James Connolly

While there was plenty of detail and discussion to be had in relation to the National Development Plan and its aspirational sister, the National Planning Framework for 2040, the most remarkable part of its launch was the ceremony.

The day was choreographed in a manner that resembled a country led by a regime more concerned with propaganda than planning.

It was understandable to host it in Sligo IT, a youthful setting far away from Dublin where so much of the ire directed at the Government on this matter stems.

Rancour within the Cabinet that rural Ireland was being overlooked has been well-documented.

Shane Ross TD and Heather Humphreys face questions. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Shane Ross TD and Heather Humphreys face questions. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

"We decided we wouldn't have it in Dublin because it's a national plan so we thought it would be in a location outside Dublin," said the Taoiseach. It was the first time someone said something that wasn't a cliché.

For once ministers were falling over each other to give commentary and answer journalists' questions - on the strict condition they related to the plan.

Normally "faceless" civil servants were for the first time lining up to answer questions based on their own part of the policies and how they were drafted.

But the last question they had no answers for. 'Were any of the people involved in planning the future of Ireland for the next 20 years women?'

The long line of men in grey suits gave the game away that the process may not be all it was supposed to seem.

"There was lots of gender balance," came the response from a Government official, suggesting 'nothing to see here, move along to the next trick'.

Next up was the grand launch at Sligo IT's Knocknarea Arena.

TDs from all hues and parties were present, as were lecturers, students and stakeholders.

A blaring 'Riverdance' mix greeted the packed hall. Straight away the scene conjured up memories of the late 90s. A time when Ireland was the undefeated champion of the Eurovision, and the Government had more money than sense - or humility.

The next time we'd watch those types of scenes would be during another painful, face-palming episode of 'Reeling In The Years'.

Like more recent ones showing clips of former minister Charlie McCreevy denounce fiscal sense as 'pink-lefty' nonsense.

The Cabinet was eventually welcomed onto the stage to a rapturous round of applause; like army generals fresh from a successful territorial win.

All that was missing was the obligatory 'Mission Accomplished' sign above their heads.

There was plenty of glitz with some slick videos to hammer the message home. Although how well it translated to the TV audience at home was debatable. At times the crowded stage resembled a school play.

Hopes were dashed the charade would be interrupted when local students were given time to interrogate the Cabinet. They got the usual service: a series of well-rehearsed answers.

Irish Independent

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